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on 27 July 2012
Given that George Pelecanos has been one of my long-time favourite authors, it came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I haven't read anything by him for a couple of years. I have no doubt that this has something to do with my patterns of reading since I bought my kindle. I suspect I've become used to being attracted to cheaper options. `What It Was' came as a great reminder that some things are just worth paying a little extra for.

Even the author's note was interesting, a brief explanation of the way the book came about. It reveals something of his researching and how the bigger stories aren't always the ones to catch the attention.

Last time I did have a Pelecanos in my hand, I was with Nick Stefanos. He's in the opening here, too, so I was immediately on familiar territory, though Stefanos only makes a cameo appearance in this book - it's his drinking partner, Strange, who is telling the story.

It's set in 1972 and paints a picture of a familiar yet faraway place.

Red `Fury' Jones is based loosely upon the criminal Raymond `Cadillac' Smith. Jones has had a hard life and, as a consequence, is a hard man, his philosophy: `Take what you want. Take no man's @*!]. No police can intimidate you, no sentence will enslave you, no cell can contain your mind.' He's out to make a name for himself and to make sure that people remember him when he's gone. He's already half-way there - `Legend was, an ambitious young dude had tried to shank him in jail and the blade had broken in Red's chest. It wasn't a legend.'

To nurture the legend he's creating, Red knocks off a herion taster. That's when he gets the information he needs to move up the food-chain and also when homicide detective `Hangdog' Vaughn (`Dude got no quit') gets involved. It's also when Strange is employed to trace a gold ring that went missing during the killing.

From there on the book follows the different players - hookers, police, mobsters and killers - as their lives converge.

There are the trademark references to music throughout the book and cares are described in ways that even got me interested (not an easy thing to achieve). All the characters feel very real - they're all flawed and capable of extreme acts. I was struck by the way he shows the impact of war on three different generations of Americans - it's subtle but raises powerful questions.

The multiple perspective is handled brilliantly as Pelacanos always does and the plot is fully satisfying in the way that the grip is held all the way through and that the climax plays out with an honest feel without offering any hard-and-fast solutions. The story has been `What It Was', just the way life is.

It was great to be back and I shan't be leaving it for so long before my return.
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on 4 April 2012
One of the other reviewers does not like this book as it mentions clothes, cars and music. But as with a lot of Pelecano's books who is wearing what, driving what and listening to what is integral to the story, the plot, the characters, etc..... Its these details that make the book and set the scene indeed these details paint the scene in glorious 70's technicolor! The clothes, cars and music are characters as much as the people in the story.
Yes its short buts its snappy, atmospheric and vintage Pelecanos.
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on 16 December 2012
George Pelecanos is one of those authors that you do not have to hesitate to buy his next book from even before any reviews are written. I have read almost all of them and so far he has showed himself incapable of writing a bad or even average book. They are all at least four stars and this latest product is a solid five.

This story takes place in 1972 and as always in Washington DC. Pelecanos writes in such a way that you are more or less transported back through time and get the feeling that you are sitting as a spectator watching the whole story being played out in front of you. His ability to describe cars, fashion and above all music at the time makes you want to go look for your old LP:s and play the tunes that the people in the story are listening to. Being both familiar with Washington DC and the music of the era this is a great feeling.

Pelecanos also writes in the way people talked and reacted in those days. No attempts to take todays values and bring them back in time just to make the heroes and villains seam more understandable to you. These are real people.

The Crime story is well plotted and thought out. The Ending as small surprise but also a very acceptable one. This is a book I had a very difficult time putting down.

There is no question that when he publishes his next one I will get it on the day of release.
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on 10 September 2012
I bl**dy loved this book.

The story is both brooding with the threat of violence and yet also action packed in equal measure.
The characters are well developed and you really believe them.
The regular references to music, clothing and cars of the time really give you the sense that you are there in that period.

This is a great stand alone 'hard boiled' crime novel ... but if you have read any of GP's other novels there is the added treat of mini refrences to other characters that have appeared in leading roles in those other tales (don't worry if this is your first Pelecanos book, these references probably will not even be noticed by you and won't spoil your enjoyment).

The book has a satisfying ending and yet it is not conveniently 'neat'. As you read the story you feel certain that there can only one outcome for the bad guy. Actually no .... the book leaves you with no story-line that is not suitably dealt with yet the ending is not what you are expecting.

I enjoyed everything about this book - so much so that I then bought his latest novel immediatly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 February 2014
"What it Was" (2012) by George Pelecanos is a detective story with a noir flavor set in Washington, D.C. in 1972. The story it tells is recounted in a bar many years later by one of the primary characters, Derek Strange, an investigator who appears in other Pelecanos books. Derek Strange and his friend and former police department colleague, Detective Frank Vaughn, known on the street as "hound dog" are on the trail of a series of murders and robberies featuring a flamboyant criminal, Red "Fury" Jones, and his woman, "Coco" who runs a brothel. With the exception of Vaughn, most of the characters in the story are African American. Racial tension in Washington, D.C. forms an important subplot.

The story revolves around the fate of a ring, which appears to be a cheap piece of costume jewelry. It disappears during Red Jones' first murder in the book. A young woman hires Strange to find it, claiming it is a valuable family heirloom. The ring and the murders bring Strange and Vaughn to work together as the ring goes through many hands and events before its fate and ownership are determined.

The novel is short but it is cluttered with characters and incidents, probably too many. The story is full of violence and twists but it remains somewhat slow and predictable. The appeal of this book lies in the writing and the background. Pelacanos writes in a no-nonsense hard-boiled, street-smart style attuned to the patterns of speech in 1970's D.C. The writing is direct and effective. Characters and voicing tend to change many times within each chapter. The effect of the frequent back and forth in voice tends to be overdone and to slow down the pace of the story.

The book captures the feel of the underside of Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s, about two years before I moved to the city. Pelecanos shows a wonderfully attuned eye and ear in the ambience and details. Much of the story is set in the "U" Street corridor which had been destroyed by riots following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. Pelecanos offers gritty portrayals of 14th street which at the time was the lively center of Washington, D.C.'s prostitution trade. He describes the long Georgia Avenue corridor, the Carter Barron Amphitheater, the remote, violence-filled sections of Northeast D.C., as well as more middle-class areas such as upper Connecticut Avenue. Pelecanos' descriptive talents are unerring as he shows the cafes, the cheap brothels, bars, streets, fish houses, movie theaters, and people from the D.C. of the time. The characterizations are effective, as are the descriptions of cars, music, clothes, cigarettes and other ornamentation of daily life.

The city Pelecanos depicts has little in common with the powerful, political Washington, D.C. The beginning Watergate scandal gets described briefly and specifically but only as a foil to life on the streets. Although I saw it from the outside, I remember Pelecanos' Washington, D.C. well. Pelacanos' gritty portrayal of the seamy parts of Washington, D.C. that most people will find unfamiliar make this book worth reading .

Robin Friedman
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on 8 September 2013
I always enjoy Geoge Pelecanos novels ever since I viewed The Wire boxed set.. He conjures up Washinton so you can almost smell it. What more can an author achieve. His characters are always believable. I think he has taken over from James Lee Burke.
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on 31 July 2013
George Pelecanos is a past-master of crime fiction. One of the all-time greats. 'What It Was' opens at a gallop and keeps you turning the pages but unfortunately the ending fizzles a bit, as if Pelecanos suddenly had to pull things together in order to hit a deadline. Even so it's a compelling read and Pelecanos is always worth reading.
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VINE VOICEon 20 November 2013
Pelecanos time-travels us back to Washington in the June of 1972 for this violent, stylish novel that actually doesn't have too much going on in the way of plot. His eye for detail allows snappy, fashion-aware pen pictures to be drawn of the various dull characters that populate the proceedings, but frankly you don't end up caring much about the cops or the crooks.

Pelecanos's Washington of 1972 is a macho, violent place, with criminals breezing around in big, powerful cars that are described in loving detail. The soundtrack of the times is resuscitated with equal precision and affection, but as another Amazon reviewer has rightly said, this book is style over substance.

Gun-battles, theft, drug-taking and dealing all feature, so this is pretty much standard fayre for the books Pelecanos produces, and although it's breezily, sharply written and easy enough to read, there is not much depth to really get your teeth into.

The sights and sounds of 1972 are faithfully recalled, and there is the inevitable nod to the rumblings of the Watergate scandal that went on to bring down a President, but it's not exceptional stuff by any means. Think old seventies episodes of your fabourite American cop shows with a dash of 1973's Bond caper Live and Let Die and you have the essence of the mood captured here.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 9 February 2012
George Pelecanos packs a punch in his short delivery of a novel containing the elements required for a quick adrenaline rush. Robert Lee Jones ('Red Fury') is a hotpot for females, especially Coco Watkins known for 'the dark buttery texture of her skin'. Robert (Bobby) Odum is a heroin dealer with a supplier (Roland Williams).
He gets a bullet soon. This is written early. Hopefully no spoilers. The rest of Pelecanos'
book weaves the past and present of Odum's contacts, the significance of a ring, the man,Strange, and other characters, Maybelline, Carmen, detective Vaughn. There is a Greek theme that does not dominate yet rolls out a satisfying conclusion and enjoyable one. Vaughn and Strange, quote, "People don't have a chance". A good read.
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on 28 March 2013
Pelecanos could write the assembly instructions for an Ikea product and I would be glued to it.
The man is genius. The characters and setting are totally absorbing. You don't read a Pelecanos book, you live it.
'What it Was' is more of the same. Be prepared to sit up until the early hours reading this.
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